COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The family of an unarmed black woman who was shot and killed by a white police officer during a drug raid has settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $2.5 million.
The death of Tarika Wilson, 26, ignited protests and debate about race relations in Lima, a northwest Ohio city where one in four residents is black. Wilson was holding her 1-year-old son in her arms when she died. The child was also shot and later had a finger amputated.
Police Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, who killed Wilson, was acquitted of criminal charges in her death and has since returned to work, though he is no longer allowed to patrol the streets.
Chavalia was part of a SWAT team that raided Wilson’s home in January 2008 looking for her boyfriend, a suspected drug dealer who later pleaded guilty to drug trafficking. Prosecutors said Chavalia recklessly fired three shots into a bedroom where Wilson and her six children were gathered, even though he could not clearly see her or whether she had a weapon.
The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, was announced Thursday by attorneys representing Wilson’s family and the city. The money will be placed in a fund set aside for Wilson’s children, city Law Director Tony Geiger said.
Wilson’s mother, Darla Jennings, could not be reached for comment Friday. A phone listing under her name had been disconnected.
“Darla Jennings, with help from Tarika’s sisters, has done an amazing job of raising these children,” her attorneys said in a statement. “This settlement will give her the resources to help the children even more.”
The city said the case was settled by the insurance company acting on its behalf — and is not an admission of liability. The city believes Chavalia “acted appropriately” during the raid, Geiger said in a statement. The money will be paid by the insurance company.
Chavalia testified at his criminal trial that he thought his life was in danger when he fired the shots. He said he saw a shadowy figure coming from behind the partially open bedroom door and heard gunshots that he thought were aimed at him. The gunfire he heard was actually coming from downstairs.
The settlement offers some vindication for Wilson’s family, said Jason Upthegrove, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“He shot through a baby and killed an unarmed woman,” Upthegrove said. “And you’ve got a city administration standing behind the statement that he used appropriate action. I just think that is despicable beyond articulation.”
On Monday, the two-year anniversary of Wilson’s death, friends and family will gather for a candlelight vigil in front of the house where she died, he said.
“These six kids, the last images they have of their mother, she was laying in a pool of blood,” he said. “Every time you reach another one of these milestones, it’s just a glaring reminder of what an egregious act that was.”